Sunday, July 06, 2008

God's greatness and grace

Has anyone else noticed how often people pray along the following lines: 'we thank you that despite your greatness (outlined in terms of creativity, power, etc), you still love us'? Is anyone else uneasy about it?

This has troubled me for a while. Surely it's because of God's greatness that he loves us, it's an outworking of his greatness, a sign of his greatness; indeed surely his greatness is grace-shaped, he is only great because grace shapes everything he is and does. In short, he loves what he has made. After all, doesn't John remind us that God is love...?

My disquiet about the language of 'despite' is that it defines greatness in the way fallen humans exercise it. The great men (and women) of history are men of power, military prowess, the iron fist that creates the context for the odd velvet touch; people to whom acts of mercy are a condescension not their default position.

Mercifully this is not how God expresses his greatness. He expresses his greatness by raising the poor from the ash heap, pouring his grace into sinful people so that they might choose to follow the way of his Son. Hence Psalm 72 models human kingship on this divine way of handling power and not vice versa.

Perhaps if we got our picture of God right, we'd get our ethics as the followers of Jesus sorted.

1 comment:

Bob said...

Interesting - but it seems possible that there are two different understanding of 'greatness' at work here. You seem to be talking about God's moral perfection, and saying - rightly - that grace is at the heart of his moral greatness. But there is another aspect to greatness - reflected in God's own description of himself in Job 38-41 which is more about the extent of his powers. And Job's response to that (while only possible because of God's grace) is still one of reverent fear. So I think there may still be a place for the kind of prayer you talk about, as long as we are careful not to place grace and greatness in opposition?